Robin Kumoluyi: How to Build a Strong Career in Data

Reflecting on her professional life, Robin Kumoluyi of Johnson & Johnson shares insights with emerging data talent on how to build a strong career.

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As part of a recent Data Science @ Work webinar hosted by Correlation One and featuring several prominent Johnson & Johnson leaders, Robin Kumoluyi generously shared valuable professional development tips and insights with our Data Science for All (DS4A) Fellows and Alumni.

For her remarks, Robin — who serves as the company's Vice President and Chief Quality Officer, Pharmaceuticals —  drew upon lessons learned from a distinguished career spanning several corporate and pharmaceutical industry roles. She offered webinar attendees a peek into what it takes to not only build a strong data career but also how to develop the heart of a servant leader.

Ultimately, the lessons Robin shared apply as readily to data analytics, science, and engineering as to other professional fields.

And we’re honored to recap several key moments from her presentation.

Embrace Passions and Learn Through Experience

Often, we’re encouraged to let our early passions lead our career choices. Yet professional, real-world experiences are equally vital to shaping a career.

That's why Robin suggested younger professionals spend time “with different organizations so that you get to know what you really like.”

As she explained, Robin initially had ambitions to become a doctor. But she discovered a passion for microbiology when she started working for a contract laboratory. 

So, she encouraged webinar attendees to tune into their own thoughts and feelings when assessing whether they’re on the right career path. When exploring whether a position is the right fit for the long run, Robin suggested rising professionals ask of themselves:

  • Does the position you have energize you? 
  • Does it put you in a space where you are flowing? 
  • Do you feel good about the work you are doing?

Honest answers to these questions may help emerging professionals identify their next professional steps.

Demonstrate Diligence  

With the spark of curiosity in place, it’s important next to put in the time and effort to build both knowledge and a reputation for excellence.

Robin shared how, during one of her first jobs, she found herself very engaged in processing lab samples. “I would process samples until it was time to leave, I would then clock out and go back to sanitize the benches and do the clean-up work off the clock, without pay.”

Management took notice, and the recognition eventually led to her first promotion. To this day, diligent professionalism remains a hallmark of her work.

“Something that will never change in your career is the value of going the extra mile,” Robin said.

Come with Solutions, Not Just Problems

Hand in hand with a strong work ethic, Robin believes that providing solutions to problems is key to career success. 

As an illustration, she shared another example from her days before joining the pharmaceutical industry, back when she was a dairy technician.

After a series of mishaps threatened to ruin an entire vat of yogurt due to the wrong pH level, Robin suggested to her manager that by simply by changing the pH level (and flavoring) to an acceptable range, they might safely proceed with production.

It worked.

Afterward, she rewrote procedures so that controls were put in place, thereby helping to prevent any future mishaps.  

“I came to learn another very strong lesson from a career perspective: Come with a solution, not just a problem,” Robin said.

Ask For What You Want

With a strong work ethic and a demonstrated commitment to problem solving, rising talent may be better positioned to voice their professional ambitions and discover supporters willing to help make those goals a reality.

Noting that “Nobody knows what you want unless you tell them,” Robin shared an anecdote from her tenure in a pharmaceutical company’s research and development department.

While there, Robin volunteered to help another team write and implement training modules. After explaining to the senior director of the team the validation protocol that she’d developed, she told him, “I really like working with your team. I want to work for you.” 

Two months later, she was a manager — on his team. 

“You need to let people know what you like to do and what you have the passion for and what you want to do,” Robin said.  “So, you do have to say what you want.”

Seek Both Mentors and Sponsors

We speak often in the data science world of the importance of having strong mentors. Indeed, part of Correlation One's award-winning DS4A data training experience involves connecting experienced data professionals with emerging talent for mentoring.

Robin, however, emphasized that both mentors and sponsors are important when one seeks to build a strong career.

But what’s the difference?

“Mentors are people who shape your thoughts, and they help you to think about what you want to do,” she explained. “You bounce ideas off them and they challenge you to think about what you want to do and how you’re  going to doing it.”

A sponsor, however, is an advocate who “has a seat at the table when decisions are being made around promotions and hiring opportunities.”

Sponsors, in Robin’s words, “open doors and they use their relationship capital to support you.” 

For anyone wondering how to secure a sponsor, Robin suggested that “You get to know people. You talk to people. You network. You help them understand what you want to do in an organization. You have to show them what you can deliver and how you can add value along with a strong work ethic and commitment.  Sponsorships are earned, and you have to put in the work to show a sponsor you are worthy of their backing. Remember they are using their relationship capital to support you.”

The Fundamentals of Building a Strong Career in Data

During her remarks, much of the focus was on what Robin termed as professional “soft skills,” because “those are really important to make it in an organization and to brand yourself as someone who comes in with solutions.” 

Yet Robin also made a point to emphasize that “You can only do that if you are technically competent and capable.” 

She cited Correlation One's DS4A program, for which Johnson & Johnson serves as an Employer Partner, as an excellent example of professional learning opportunities that can strengthen career possibilities.

Of course, when it comes to careers in the data field, core skills are required just to launch a career.

But successful seasoned pros know there’s always more room to learn more.

“I would say that with data analytics, more than anything going right now, it’s all constantly evolving, almost at the speed of light,” Robin said, adding, “We’re currently putting into place a program for the next generation of quality systems.”

Robin stressed that to get a “seat at the table” in an organization — to become a person of influence — aspiring data professionals will have to continue educating themselves about the field.

Lifelong learning, in other words, is essential to building a strong career in the data field.

The Role of Servant Leadership — and Respect

According to Robin, learning doesn’t grind to a stop once you become an industry leader. In the right environment and with the right mindset, there should still be room for growth.

She believes the best leaders are also learners themselves, and she credited her experience at Johnson & Johnson with helping her hone her own leadership skills.

Robin said that the Johnson & Johnson credo is the main reason she joined the company, “That’s what really drew me, because it resonated with who I am in terms of being a servant leader and wanting to help others.”

She added that the credo is not simply a slogan, mission, or vision statement, “It’s something that Johnson & Johnson lives and thrives by.” 

Closing out her remarks, Robin offered final thoughts on how leaders can prepare paths for those who aspire to follow in their footsteps.  “If you respect people, you’ll look out for their careers. You’ll include them. You’ll listen to their ideas, and you’ll give them the room to grow.”

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Interested in learning how your company, like Johnson & Johnson, can connect with emerging data talent through our innovative programs? See our DS4A corporate page.